Sunday, December 04, 2005
Schubert: the "Tragic" Symphony
The forms are regular, but disclose Schubert's characteristic treatment of modulation, particularly in the placing of his subordinate Themes, and in the Recapitulation, where he indulges in transpositions that modify the traditional scheme, though they cannot be charged with impairing the structural impression. Thus, on the first movement (C minor) he sets the subordinate Theme in A-flat, instead of the conventional E-flat, and ends the Exposition in that key; and the Recapitulation begins in G minor, instead of C minor, with the subordinate Theme in E-flat. The Coda is in C major---which is normal.
The second Movement is a lovely Lyric, or friendly character, in sonatine-allegro form (that is, without a Development), and here are encountered episodes of touching pathos.
The third Movement is called a Menuetto, but it is in reality a Scherzo, quite after Beethoven's heart, and decidedly effective. Its Trio is a beautiful specimen of Schubert's typical conception.
The Finale is again a sonata-allegro design; the principal Theme is inferior---scarcely more than a boyish imitation of pseudo-dramatic opera; but the subordinate Theme (here again in A-flat) is a truly beautiful, redeeming feature. The Recapitulation is in C major, the subordinate Theme placed at first in F.
Schubert was almost as inveterate a devotee of the device of Repetition as was Beethoven. But when Beethoven repeats, the effect is quite a different thing; like so many of Beethoven's creative processes, which, being controlled by serious mental effort, profound reflection and untiring comparison and pruning, turn out results that are unique and firm. Beethoven's repetitions always strengthen the structure, while those of Schubert (and others) often weaken it; those of Beethoven make for unity---those of Schubert are apt to produce the impression of monotony. The comparison may be somewhat unfair, since this refers mainly to Schubert's earlier works, composed during a period in which Beethoven had already attained to maturity. At any rate, the listener will find that it does not apply to Schubert's last two great Symphonies, wherein we would not willingly dispense with a single tone.